Even though senior Ali McMahon lost the No. 1 singles state title to good friend Paige Miles of Juan Diego on Saturday at the 3A state tennis tournament, she still had a lot to smile about.
That’s because earlier that morning she captured a win she had wanted all season long. In a hard-fought semifinals match against Desert Hill’s Morgan Anderson, it was McMahon who emerged victorious, winning 6-4, 7-5.
In the regular season, McMahon and Anderson, two of the best singles players in a position full of elite players, battled back and forth with McMahon winning at the Logan Invitational and Anderson winning at an invitational tournament in St. George.
And so, this was the match that McMahon had focused on since the minute she saw that the two would meet in the semifinals. Strategizing with her mother, Park City head coach Lori McMahon, and assistant coach Tim Donnelly, McMahon figured out an arsenal of varied moves that kept Anderson on her toes and ultimately gave McMahon the win. McMahon was down 5-2 at one point in the second set, but won five straight games after that.
"I was looking at that first before the finals," McMahon said. "I was glad I beat her."
Then it was on to Miles. McMahon, feeding off the energy of the Anderson win, won the first two games, but then made some unforced errors and the door opened for Miles. Miles began to gain the upper hand and continued to dominate for the rest of the match to win 6-2, 6-1.
McMahon said she should have followed a similar strategy of mixing it up with Miles as she had with Anderson.
"In this match, I tried to bang it out with her and I should have mixed it up more," McMahon said. "It’s hard to mix it up with Paige. I should have given her high ones and a lot more slices."
Miles is tough competition. She finished her prep career with an unblemished 72-0 record and has won numerous individual titles over the past four years.
The two embraced after the match. Both will be playing at Division I colleges next year.
"We’ve been friends since the 10s [United States Tennis Association division (USTA)]," McMahon said. "We’ve always had battles. We’re rivals on the court and friends off the court."
Although McMahon was disappointed about the loss, she was able to put it into perspective.
"The top first singles players we’re all [USTA] tournament players," McMahon said. "Today was a good competition."
The rest of team also had some big, memorable matches, winning the second-place trophy after losing by eight points to Desert Hills, 26-18.
All but one of the Park City players made an appearance in the finals. The exception was the No. 1 doubles duo of Callie Wells and Alex Oriente, who lost to a Waterford team that has been nearly unstoppable all season.
At No. 2 doubles, Hilary Packham and Kristen Albrecht came back from a loss in their first set in the semifinals to win the last two sets and earn a ticket for the finals. There, they lost to Desert Hills’ Brie Beck and Kirsta Anderson. The Park City girls were playing well in the beginning, but were frustrated by Desert Hills’ powerful play.
"They were just consistent, good players," Packham said.
"We got good points on them, they just had more," Albrecht added.
"It’s all about attitude," Packham said. "When we get angry, we play bad. But we had a really good state. We can’t be upset at that. We did our best and it paid off."
At the second singles position, Park City’s Tessa Wray lost 6-2, 6-2 to Desert Hills’ Melissa Cowles, a former first singles player for 4A Pine View. Donnelly said that both girls bring a solid all-around game to the court, but Cowles was ready for all of Wray’s moves.
"Tessa has a big arsenal," Donnelly said. "She tried to use all of them, but Melissa gets everything."
At third singles, Stormy Dvorak was able to get a big win against Juan Diego’s Justine Davis in the semifinals in three games, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1. The two had split wins 1-1 in the regular season.
"She broke her game down," coach McMahon said. "She hit short and low and the girl folded."
In the finals, Dvorak lost 6-1, 6-1 to another Davis — Annie Davis of Desert Hills.
The Miners have steadily improved both their skills and their confidence against the state’s toughest teams all season long. Coaches McMahon and Donnelly said they had a frank discussion with the girls right before the state championships and told them that this was their last chance and that they had the talent to play against anyone.
"We focused on a positive mental attitude and a game strategy," Donnelly said. "For the most part, they enacted it, which is why we had four teams in the finals."
Although the Miners couldn’t move past Desert Hills a brand new St. George high school team made of the best players in the southern region — they were still proud of their efforts.
"It’s really a first against these guys," said Donnelly. "These are the best players in southern Utah. I think Park City had a really good tournament."
Many of the Desert Hills girls played for 4A Pine View last year a top team in that division — which was a sticking point with Park City and some of the other 3A teams. Regardless, Coach McMahon said felt that the Park City girls were still able to play some of their best tennis at the state championships.
"No regrets," said coach McMahon. "We took second at state and the girls started believing in themselves. I’m really happy with that."
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Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts in early June submitted a letter to the Park City Planning Commission in support of a Provo developer’s blueprints for a major project at the resort.